FAYETTEVILLE – Now with a target square on their backs, the fourth-ranked University of Arkansas Lady Razorback cross country team has to fight a 48-team field in the largest Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival to date when it races Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m.
The highest ranked school in the field, the Lady Razorbacks will battle five other ranked opponents in an attempt to win its first Chile Pepper title since 2002. Schools that are looking to upset Arkansas are #15 Oklahoma State, #19 Baylor, #20 Duke, #28 Texas Tech and #30 Virginia Tech along with a host of other institutions from across the country.
“The size of the women’s field is certainly a testament to the hard work performed by the Chile Pepper organizing committee over the years,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “Every year teams walk away from Fayetteville and tell their peers that things are done right here in Fayetteville and so the competition continues to grow. I am curious to see how the team runs when they are the favorites. We have a very good squad, but they are young and most of them have never been in a race of this size.”
Last season, the Lady Razorbacks finished second at the Chile Pepper for the second consecutive season, missing out on the team title by just seven points. The 16th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowgirls took the team title and used it as a springboard to a 10th-place finish at the NCAA Championships. Then freshman Christine Kalmer was Arkansas’ top runner, finish 10th overall, leading three Lady’Backs to top 15 finishes.
Arkansas’ 2006 squad has seen three different front runners in three races and a core group of four sophomores and three freshmen finish among the Lady’Backs’ top seven runners in each race. Added to the questions that surround Arkansas is the fact that its freshmen runners have yet to run a true 6,000-meter race this season. The Lady’Backs were supposed to run that distance at the Bill Dellinger Invitational, but the course measured 5,880 meters.
Proceeds from the Chile Pepper Festival are distributed to area high school cross country programs. At the annual Chile Pepper press conference on Tuesday the organizers of the meet issued $20,000 in checks to five high schools in Northwest Arkansas and hope to increase that amount this year as more than 3,500 runners compete in the 2006 race, the largest number in the 18-year history of the competition.
For more information about Lady Razorback cross country or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.